The lives and times of 'Second Lifers'
Most second lifers were grateful and happy with their employers, even though the company was not doing something extra for them
Do not make this another rat race and build stress here too; each unto themselves. If some of us may not need a second life, so be it!
Out of the boring ordinariness of work, incessant mass uploads of holiday pictures on Facebook, updates of private lives and even fine single malt gone stale with its easy availability in the home bar were the basis for a few entertaining conversations. It seemed to hold the hope of a future away from the comfort of all the new things that had become routine!
A chance comment on Facebook on being stuck in a traffic jam on the tarmac at Mumbai airport (yeah I am serious!) by a friend enticed me to this breakfast that seemed to hold promise of an exciting land. I discovered a ‘Second Lifer’ – not the virtual kind, but in the real world amidst hot waffles off the griddle and idlis floating in sambar.
I cringed when this friend said he wept uncontrollably at the Dras Memorial for those young boys who gave up their lives to capture a peak for the country! Looking at this six foot giant towering over the table, I looked at him to only realise that he was still lost in those memories and meant every tear that he shed. This wasn’t for effect!
We were work friends who while knowing each other for over 10 years, still had work as our primordial connection. Yet we didn’t speak a word on our professional lives! We spoke of poetry, his trip to Leh and Ladakh, watched videos, gasped at the picture of purple mountains, heard stories of dinners, heroes and shared the excitement of the over 300 downloads of his poetry app!
Intrigued by a picture of him and his wife holding aloft the company banner at the highest point, I raised an eyebrow. Seeing that, he laughed and helpfully added: “That is the least I could do for my company that allows me to live a second life.” Poetry, Driving and Road trips was his second life!
Looking around or realistically browsing through the newsfeed on my FB page, I see others who in spite of their mind numbing and debilitating 80-hour work weeks have a second life. One at 50 and with a busy corporate life is a marathoner, another of timeless age is a mountain trekker, and another is a weekend school teacher!
Most second lifers were grateful and happy with their employers, even though the company was not doing something extra for them.
I bumped into this weekend school teacher at the office cafeteria who was gushing about the nobility of teaching underprivileged children. He looked surprised, gave me a ‘stop behaving like my mother’ look and very politely asserted that he taught these children not for a noble reason but simply because he enjoyed it. It was as enjoyable as the Sunday siesta habit!
Chastened, I changed subjects and shot another blooper! “So will you give up work to take up this up? You seem to enjoy it so much”. Man! I had crossed the Rubicon now and entered the “get rid of this pest” zone. With a patient teacher tone, he explained that work for money was his first life and teaching was his hobby. “Would you give up your reading?” He asked me in return. Bristling, I retorted saying what's that got to do with my working? The smile in return for my retort put me in a sheepish school moment that still made my ears singe with the warmth of remembered embarrassments.
The interesting part is all of them were grateful and happy with their employers. It is not that the company was doing something extra for them. The company just allowed them to take their leaves albeit for a long duration, or just didn't intrude on their weekends. Even in the case of the school teacher, the only minor exception was some weekdays when he stood in for a teacher he would have to come early to office or simply spend his lunch break at the school. It didn't cost the company a paisa extra and no HR team can take credit for their second lives.
That begs the question: Should this be a part of the selection process or maybe even the engagement process in a HR professional's To-Do book?
Can one structure and code something that seems so essentially personal in a rule book? Is it not better left to grow wildly, shaped by its own surge with very imperceptible balances built in? My preference would be this approach. Let a thousand passions bloom and hopefully none will cross the dark side.
Nurturing these traits is a must in my opinion. In these days of such uncertainty and economic gloom, we all need a second life to enrich our first life in the corporate world. Something that makes our employees heart beat faster, drive them to weep uncontrollably, let go off them-selves and be immersed in their passions.
‘The Activity Theory of Ageing’ published in the ‘70s also endorses second lifers’. The activity theory suggests & I summarize: With age, people tend to lose the identities they harbored at work or within their families. Those few, who continuously and actively engage in a passion, have a quality of life that is much higher, are healthier and live longer. This kind of engagement is also a proven tool that enhances your feeling of self-worth. As individuals, it would be great if we can discover the second and third lives. I am tempted to of course make a 1, 2, 3 step by step process chart. Instead, let me take inspiration from the clichéd 1, 2, 3, 4 get on the dance floor express and urge you to take that plunge and have fun.
However, here is a word of caution. Do not make this another rat race and build stress here too; each unto themselves. If some of us may not need a second life, so be it! Let’s not make this another notch on the tree of success to gloat over. All the second lifers’ I bumped into were in the self actualisation zone. They did it because they wanted to do it and thoroughly enjoyed every bit of it!